A couple of days ago, while whiling away my time on Twitter, distracted from writing, and possibly other, more “productive” activities, I noticed Corey Robin tweet: “What would Nietzsche say about the fact that I need the Freedom program to write about Nietzsche?” My glib reply: “I think he’d love the irony of it! You haven’t ‘overcome’ yourself (or your distraction) yet.” To which Corey then wrote, “Or maybe he’d see it as the life-giving form I’ve imposed on myself in order to create. Crap, yes, but create nonetheless” and then went on to quote Nietzsche himself (from Beyond Good and Evil, Section 188; the passage is worth reading in its entirety):
But the curious fact is that all there is or has been on earth of freedom, subtlety, boldness, dance, and masterly sureness, whether in touch itself or in government, or in rhetoric and persuasion, in the arts just as in ethics, has developed only owing to the ‘tyranny of such capricious laws’.
A particularly appropriate quote under the circumstances.
On an academic note, I’ve been fascinated by the relationship between constraint and creativity for a long time. In Chapter 3 of Decoding Liberation, Scott Dexter and I tried to develop a theory of aesthetics for software, a crucial role in which is played by the presence of technical constraints on programmers’ work. More personally, as someone who is perennially distracted, who finds writing almost fiendishly difficult for that reason, and has often attempted to impose ‘Internet-fasts’ on himself in order to ‘produce,’ I remain intrigued and challenged by the need to restrain oneself in order to be truly free when it comes to self-expression (I’m indulging in the conceit here that writing is an activity that enables that.)
My struggles with working in the presence of the distraction–a ‘freedom’ that detracts from the ‘freedom’ of writing–are constant; sometimes those distractions are other daily, mundane responsibilities, sometimes willful procastination, and these are experienced by almost any one that sets out to ‘create’ in any shape or form whatsoever. And in those moments of struggle to get to work, where a particular freedom awaits us, we always struggle with the call of the alternative ‘freedom’. And the peculiarity of it all, when we do manage to get to ‘creating,’ is a sense that somehow, restraint is an inseparable part of being free.
Of course, poets have said it better than I could. So, without further ado, we have Goethe on the subject:
Nature and Art (Natur und Kunst)Nature and art–they seem to split and flee And find each other before one thinks about it. My stubbornness too has been completely routed So right now both seem to appeal to me. What’s missing is only an honest preparation! The fact is that if we first devote hard hours– Of spirit, of work–to art, accepting its powers, The heart once more feels nature’s illumination That’s how it goes with every transformation: All struggles to reach the perfection of airy summits Prove useless to spirits feeling only liberty. Whoever wants what’s best seeks combination: A master first reveals himself in limits, And law alone can truly set us free.